Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Drinking, again! Natty Boh: a review and quick history.

National BohemianNatty Boh— is no longer, in any real way, a Baltimore, Maryland beer; and it hasn't been so for decades. Miller/Coors brews it now in Eden, North Carolina, under a contract agreement for the Pabst Brewing Company, which itself owns no actual brewing facilities. MillerCoors is set to close the plant in 2016, and who know what will happen after the pending sale of SABMiller to Anheuser-Busch InBev.

As Fritz Hahn of the Washington Post recently said of the beer:
These days, there’s little that’s authentically Maryland about Natty Boh, a beer brewed in North Carolina under contract to a multinational corporation based in Los Angeles with a Texas post office box as its address.

Natty Boh 2015

The timeline of the demise of Natty Boh:
  • It's been thirty-seven years (1978) since all production of National Bohemian was moved from the City of Baltimore, Maryland (in the Highlandtown district, overlooking the Baltimore harbor), to Halethorpe, Maryland (a suburb to the southwest of the city).
  • It's been twenty years (1996) since all production of Natty Boh was moved from Maryland, elsewhere.
  • It's been ten years (October, 2006), since Natty Boh's final Maryland home, the Carling-National Brewery building (by then, home to Washington Flour), was razed to the ground.

The razing of Natty Boh

In 1961, Carling Brewing Company (a division of Carling-O'Keefe of Canada) built a new brewery in Halethorpe, Maryland. Annual capacity was about 1 million barrels.

In 1974, Carling bought the National Brewing Company, and rechristened the company Carling-National Breweries. It closed National's Highlandtown brewery (in Baltimore, at Dillon and Conkling Streets) soon afterward and moved all of the production [including National Bohemian, i.e., Natty Boh] to the newer Halethorpe facility.

Carling-O'Keefe sold its U.S. subsidiary to G. Heileman in the late 1970s. Rather than investing in modernization, Heilemann chose to jury-rig the Halethorpe brewery's large kettle, by then in need of major repairs or replacement, by welding-on raised sides. Production capability rose to close to 2 million barrels per year. The efforts proved insufficient. Stroh's bought G. Heileman in 1996, and closed the Halethorpe brewery shortly thereafter.

Eighty or so fermenters were installed outside (!) the brewery building in the late 1970s, looking like high-tech missile silos. Each standing nearly four-stories tall, they were state of the art at the time. Their large capacity and their exposure to direct sunlight and the outdoor elements demanded creative solutions for refrigeration, insulation, and convection control. In the summer of 1998, they were laid on their sides in the parking lot behind the brewery and sold as scrap.

The brewhouse vessels were still visible from the Baltimore Beltway, I-695, as late as 2005, unused by the last tenant, Washington Flour. When first fabricated, the kettle had a capacity of 610 barrels (almost 19,000 gallons or 8,405 cases) per brew. In October 2005, the building was razed.
Is Baltimore a Beer Town (2007)

There was a time, into the 1950s, when Maryland-brewed beers accounted for almost 90% of all beers sold in the state, and the beers from National Brewing alone National Premium, National Bohemian, and the rest of its line— accounted for 60%. *

But now? Oh, what Pabst/MillerCoors has done to the beer, ma. I took one for the home team, and drank a 2015 Natty Boh. The beer smelled of chicken stock, cabbage, and cut grass.

Look up that Google map again. Scroll south-west a quarter-mile or so along Hollins Ferry Road. What will you see? A red block captioned: Heavy Seas Beer. That 'craft' brewery opened in December 1995, while Natty Boh was an erstwhile neighbor, its sweet aroma of corn cooking redolent along the highway.

Today, in 2015, there is no more National Brewery, decades gone. Next month, in early December, however, the Heavy Seas brewery will be still be alive and brewing, celebrating its 20th anniversary. Circle of life? Circle of beer.

  • * References.
  • G. Heileman was purchased by Stroh's in 1996, which itself was bought out soon thereafter. But Pabst still maintains the Heileman fiction. See a side label of the Natty Boh can: here.
  • Redaction alert: My initial review was harsher; I toned it down a notch this morning. The beer, however, did not improve.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virginia— I sell the beers of Heavy Seas (not National Bohemian). Any opinions here are mine alone.

  • Drinking , Again is a series of occasional reviews of beer (and wine and spirits). No scores; only descriptions.
  • Graphic created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

  • For more from YFGF:

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